Landscape Hotspot: Jasper’s Medicine Lake
Once a month, we’ll feature a landscape photography hotspot. We want to aid you with getting ‘the shot’ in order to help rekindle your love for nature, to enable you to become inspired by nature and to equip you to become an advocate for a wilder world at home.
This month’s focus:
Jasper National Park’s Medicine Lake
Of every wild area we visit, Jasper is probably our favourite for landscape photography.
Within the large Rocky Mountain park, there are numerous landscape photography hotspots and what makes them stand out for me is the ability to find angles – and even locations – that haven’t been previously defined by other photographers.
Medicine Lake ranks as one of the park’s top hotspots in our eyes specifically because it is often overlooked in a rush to capture the iconic Spirit Island on the more famous Maligne Lake. Indeed, Maligne may well be the more picturesque of the two locations, but Medicine Lake has a soulful quality that is hard to shake – and its considerably more accessible.
Located about halfway along the Maligne Lake Road (which begins a few kilometres east of the Jasper townsite), the entire west and north sides of the lake are accessible by car. But potentially the best angle for capturing this location is down an old fire road, located at the lake’s east end.
As soon as the road turns sharply to the left and away from the lake, as you head toward Maligne Lake, you will see a small gravel pull-off on your right hand side. Park here and walk the few feet past the barricade and into an opening that allows for access to Medicine’s lakeshore.
Without question, this location offers the most dramatic views of the weathered peaks that climb out from the lake’s north shore, as well as the varied cloud formations that build most frequently from the west. Mostly, Medicine’s east end might produce the best sunset shots in all of Jasper National Park.
In the summer months, the sun ducks behind the mountains on the south shore, spotlighting the north shore’s exfoliating domes. And if you’re lucky enough to shoot a sunset with an oncoming storm, the light displays are second to none.
This is a location I discovered searching for an angle on a black bear family that would allow me to place them within the landscape. Though that mission failed, the location endured as a landscape hotspot year-in, year-out. Each year I return to capture the same spot by focusing on different light and different clouds – and I never fail to leave satisfied.
And the foreground at Medicine Lake’s east side isn’t shabby either. From down at the water’s edge…
…to shooting from the main road…
…the braided estuary created by the Maligne River offers endless opportunities for landscape photography.
Even the parking lot at the northeast corner of the lake, during years with a heavy snow pack, can be transformed into a landscape photographer’s paradise, creating still reflections in the flood water.
But if you need another reason to scout Medicine Lake, how about this: It’s a phantom lake.
You see, Medicine is less of a lake and more of a bath tub. Receiving water from glacier melt via the Maligne River, the water drains out not into a continuation of the river, but through a sink hole. For 16 kilometres, the water travels through what is believed to be the largest, inaccessible cave system in the world and only reaches the surface near the Maligne Canyon. As a result, the lake often drains faster than the rivers can fill it, creating new foregrounds and backgrounds with each season.
Visit Maligne Lake, but be sure to spend magic light photographing Medicine Lake, the heart of the Rocky Mountain World Heritage Site.
Location: Jasper National Park, Alberta
Accessibility: Halfway along the Maligne Lake Road, the best location is at the east end of Medicine, reached from a small fire road just past the lake.
Best Time: Sunset
Season: Year Round
Tags: alberta, canadian rockies, ghost bear photography, jasper, landscape hotspots, landscape photography, medicine lake, national parks, nature, photography, simon jackson